Conflict & Justice

Dispatches from CSW: Protecting the rights of Egypt's women


Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women like Yasmin Baramawi (pictured) are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront 'sexual terrorism.' Activists have taken to patrolling the streets to protect women. The UN hosted a panel on protecting women in Tahrir Square during the annual Commission on the Status of Women.



NEW YORK – During a panel discussion at last week's Commission on the Status of Women, Dalia Abdel-Hamid, co-founder of Operation-Anti-Sexual Harassment, an activist rescue team for assault victims, denounced Egypt's failure to safeguard women’s rights from recurring instances of sexual violence in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

On January 25, the second anniversary of the revolution that ousted dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak, the rescue response teams received 19 reports of group sexual assaults against women in Tahrir Square. The operation teams managed to intervene in 15 cases, escorting women from the streets to safe houses or hospitals.

Abdel-Hamid recalls watching four mob circles take place concurrently from the headquarters of the intervention mission.

“I felt so helpless, and responsible,” she said to GlobalPost. “We still are not certain who is behind these assaults. Both the state and revolutionary groups are in denial about what is happening.”

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Harassment is nothing new to the streets of Egypt, but the attacks mirror an unprecedented spike in sexual violence upon female protesters – a phenomenon that “needs to be addressed immediately,” Abdel-Hamid insists.

Along with fellow activists, she has issued a statement decrying the government's negligence of female victims of assault. She has also started collecting testimonies from men and women volunteers and victims. “Slowly, people are speaking. Slowly, we are finding our voice. It is a remarkable thing. We will defend our dignity. We will be heard.”

Meanwhile the director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Abul Qomsan, has criticized the Egyptian delegation at CSW for delivering a “shocking” statement to the commission, Daily News Egypt reports.

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Last Monday, the delegation caused a stir when two of the three representatives withdrew from the session before the reading of the Egyptian statement. Dr. Pakinam Al-Sharkawi, the Presidential Assistant for Political Affairs, addressed the Commission, praising Egypt’s newly enacted 2012 Constitution and the government’s efforts to curtail violence against women.

“The 2012 Constitution of Egypt underlines the rights of women, and stresses that they are fledged citizens,” Al-Sharkawi said, adding that the new framework “prohibits all forms of oppression and exploitation, and criminalizes any practices that despise or humiliate the human being.”

Mervat Tallawy, President of the Egyptian National Council for Women, has also spoken out against the statement. In a paper submitted to participants at CSW, she claims “the new constitution ignored the basic rights of women politically, socially and economically,” according to Daily News Egypt.